As All Hallow’s Eve creeps upon us, are you ready to check out the spookiest places in R.I.P. City? Portland is famously rife with rumors and legends of paranormal activity.
The Shanghai Tunnels of Old Town-Chinatown, used for smuggling and human trafficking during the 1920s, are reputedly haunted by Nina, a little girl dressed in all white who died in the Old Town Merchant Hotel’s elevator shaft. Her name lives on, carved into a brick deep below Old Town Pizza.
Hikers in Tryon Creek State Park have reported hearing lumberjacks and smelling freshly felled lumber early in the morning, despite the fact that no logging activity has occurred there in the better part of a century.
Late at night on downtown Portland’s north side, performers at the ComedySportz building have time and time again heard a young woman’s cackling as the women’s restroom toilet flushes non-stop and the fluorescent lights flicker. The Bagdad Theatre, the Valley Theatre, Pittock Mansion, Shilo Inn, Falcon Apartments, the list goes on, and on, and on…
However, the creepiest, most iconic haunted places in the city are certainly Portland’s numerous cemeteries: Visitors on late night walks at Columbian Cemetery have spotted Lydia, the ghost of a stately lady of the early colonial period. Tigard’s Canterbury Hill Cemetery is supposedly stalked by mysterious balls of green light accompanied by unsettling howls. Mourners at Damascus Pioneer Cemetery have seen unexplained human figures lurking in the background of film photographs taken of lost loved ones’ headstones. Lone Fir Cemetery, home to hundreds of unmarked graves among its 25,000 headstones, even offers an Oct. 31 tour of its most famous denizens’ final places of rest.
As I strolled across the Sellwood Bridge into one of Portland’s largest and most tranquil interments, Greenwood Hill, my mind kept returning to one question: What is it about death and the undead that so fascinates the living residents of Portland? Maybe it’s just the common human sense of curiosity and horror at life’s last and greatest unknown, no more prominent here than anywhere else.
And yet, recent memory tugged at that comfortable explanation. I recalled the anxiety I felt in my classmates, co-workers, friends, family, and even strangers over The New Yorker’s now-infamous earthquake article. Midsummer 2015, it was all I seemed to hear about: Was it just me, or did many of us taste a hint of apocalypse in the air? Did I—did we—consume, and even enjoy this sense of impending doom? What kept me up at night was the sense of uncertainty it engendered: It could happen now or in 500 years, and there was no way to know.
While my thoughts and feet wandered further amid the oaks and willows, I noticed that Greenwood Hill seems to be positioned rather precariously above the Willamette River. When the Big One hits, I imagine many of the cemetery’s residents will be sleeping with the fishes at the bottom of one of Portland’s four EPA Superfund sites. I’ll cop to it: as the thought occurred to me, and the mental image dawned of old pioneers’ skeletons careening into the depths below, utterly rejected by the Earth they sought to conquer, I actually laughed. If I wasn’t before, I’m definitely cursed now!
In all seriousness, laughter is the best way to face our fears and keep our spirits high in the face of systemic injustice, social violence, and the incredible amount of work we must do to put those on the ground to rest for good. Enjoy your Halloween, however you celebrate it. The incorrigible joy of the rebel is a stake in the hearts of vampires everywhere.